Palestinian journalist Saif Kwasmi in Jerusalem in a video from 2022.
Palestinian journalist Saif Kwasmi in Jerusalem in a video from 2022. Kwasmi was detained while reporting in the Old City's Al-Aqsa Mosque on April 24, 2024. (Screenshot: Saif Kwasmi/YouTube)

Israeli police detain and assault Palestinian journalist Saif Kwasmi

New York, April 29, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called on Israeli security forces to stop harassing journalists in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and allow them to report the news freely and without fear of reprisal.

On April 24, Palestinian freelance journalist Saif Kwasmi was reporting on activities at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Jewish Passover holiday for the local news agency Al-Asiman News when four Israeli counter-terrorism police officers entered and asked him to leave with them, the journalist told CPJ, said in a video, and the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network reported.

Kwasmi said that he showed the officers his Israeli press card and they questioned him for about 30 minutes.

“When we were at Bab al-Silsila [gate to the mosque compound], the two counter-terrorism policemen who were escorting me and a border police officer took me aside and started assaulting me. The border police officer slapped me in the back of my neck,” he told CPJ.

Kwasmi said the officers handcuffed him and took him to the nearby Bet Alyaho police station where “they made me face a wall while security officers beat me and called me a Hamas reporter.”

Kwasmi said he was later transferred to a police station at Jerusalem´s Western Wall where he was again questioned, accused of incitement, and forced to unlock his phone to show the officers his video footage, despite repeatedly saying that he was a journalist. He was subsequently transferred to the Merhav David police station.

The police freed the journalist later that day on the condition that he stay away from the mosque for a week and attend a court hearing on May 1, according to his release order, based on Israeli military law, which Al-Qastal News posted on social media.

“Israeli authorities should once and for all understand that journalism is not a crime and allow Palestinian journalists like Saif Kwasmi to do their jobs freely, without the threat of assault or detention,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “We call on Israeli authorities to overturn the decision to ban Kwasmi from Al-Aqsa Mosque for a week and allow him to report on events of public interest at this important religious site.”

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and revere it as the spot where the biblical Temples stood. It has long been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence. 

In March, Kwasmi reported for the Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera Mubasher on Israel restricting worshippers’ access to Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and the arrest of journalist Walid Zayd. In February, he published a story about a lawsuit to evict Palestinian teenager Nafouth Hammad from her Jerusalem home. Hammad was among the Palestinian prisoners freed from jail in exchange for Israeli hostages during a November ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war.

In CPJ’s most recent prison census, conducted on December 1, Israel imprisoned 17 Palestinian journalists, the highest number of documented media arrests in Israel and the Palestinian territories since CPJ began tracking imprisonments in 1992.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld did not reply to CPJ´s request for comment via messaging app.